Are all of those creams and ointments claiming to prevent or reduce pregnancy stretch marks actually just a waste of money? Dermatologists from the University of Michigan think so, explaining that they still need to get to the bottom of what causes stretch marks in the first place.
A new study from the University of Michigan Health System found that most topical treatments designed to improve the appearance of stretch marks aren’t actually evidence-based. In fact, Frank Wang, MD, assistant professor and dermatologist says that "very few to none of the items touted to prevent or fix stretch marks really work.”
Earlier this month, Wang, who has spent more than eight years studying stretch marks, worked with a team to conduct a study for the British Journal of Dermatology to determine exactly what causes stretch marks at the molecular level. They discovered that the science behind stretch marks lies in the skin’s elastic fiber network, which gets disrupted when skin stretches. The network then remains disrupted after giving birth, unable to repair itself, resulting in postpartum stretch marks.
Currently, there's no research that proves any topical treatment can repair these damaged fibers.
“It may, therefore, make more sense to focus on preserving the elastic fibers you have rather than repairing damaged ones within stretch marks,” Wang said. “Regardless, it’s more complicated than just rubbing something on your stomach.”
A study examining changes in collagen — which gives skin its strength and support — is underway. But keep in mind the unpopular line-shaped lesions, also known as striae gravidarum, aren’t medically dangerous. However, Wang still believes it is essential to learn more about stretch marks because "some women feel like their self-esteem, quality of life and willingness to engage in certain activities are affected."
Wang plans to continue his research with the ultimate goal of improving or preventing stretch marks. If you’re one of the 50 to 90 percent of women affected, you might want to consider holding off on the creams until we learn more. Until then, embrace those tiger stripes! Here are a few postpartum women who did.